Going Green Gardening Ideas
When it comes to gardening, I consider myself a motivated amateur. Although I grew up in a somewhat rural area and put in a large garden every summer with my dad, I am by no means an expert on the topic.
Each year, my husband and I make new mistakes, learn new tricks, and experiment with new plants. It’s a fun process, especially when you get to eat the results. I am convinced that there are few things as satisfying as growing and eating your own food. There’s just something about tucking a tiny seed or small start into the soil and watching it grow into food you can set on the dinner table. Maybe I have led a sheltered existence, but that gets me seriously excited.
Last Saturday, everything came together perfectly (read: both kids took long naps and the weather was beautiful) so my husband and I put in our little backyard garden. We planted tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, and lettuce with plans to add pumpkins, beans, and beets this weekend. Here’s a quick tour through our garden…
Oh, before we get started, check out Sunset magazine’s site. It is my favorite stop for gardening information. It gives directions for different garden projects, provides tips on plants that grow well in our NW climate, and has pictures of beautiful gardens that will make you incredibly motivated and slightly jealous.
Raised Beds provide good soil drainage and keep the soil at a nice temperature. My husband built 2 large raised beds using wood & vinyl fencing materials, and we filled them with soil from a local landscaping company. Raised beds are more commonly built from untreated redwood or cedar, but the sky really is the limit here. Look at how much sunny space you have and get creative! You could use galvanized tubs, planter boxes, ceramic pots, hanging baskets, stacked rocks, or… the ever classy concrete utility sink from a recent remodeling project (see picture below). As long as it provides some structure, it’ll work. With some basic tools and skills, constructing your own raised beds is a weekend project you could put to use this year.
Preparing the Soil – We keep things pretty simple. My husband shoveled on generous amounts of compost and sprinkled some lime over that. We worked it in to the soil and added a few tablespoons of fertilizer to each hole before transplanting the starts. Other than that, we prefer a “less is more” approach. Either that, or we’re just lazy.
Garlic – In this raised bed, we grow strawberries and garlic. Strange bedfellows, I know. They seem to get along just fine, though. Garlic is planted in the early fall (September) and harvested mid-summer (early July). Read more about it here.
Strawberries – They take up quite a bit of space and are somewhat high-maintenance, but it’s hard to beat a real strawberry (as opposed to those grocery store varieties currently available). My husband arched PVC pipes over the plants; once the berries form, we’ll stretch netting over them to keep hungry birds, squirrels, and toddlers out.
While we were at the garden center, we saw a display packed with Alpine strawberry plants, bragging about how well they grew in hanging baskets. We took the bait and are trying out two plants in a sunny spot by our deck. This might be a fun option for those of you with limited planting space. Or it might be a big bust. I’ll let you know in a few weeks.
Herbs – Basil, rosemary, mint, oregano, chives, cilantro, parsley… I cook with these herbs all the time. As you know, buying fresh herbs from the grocery store produce section gets expensive in a hurry. The few bucks we spent on herb plants will pay for themselves many times over. You can use them fresh throughout the summer in dozens of dishes. If you have the time & energy, you can even dry the leaves for use throughout the year. If I only had room for a miniature garden, I’d just plant herbs. They’re easy and cost effective. And I am totally nuts about basil.
Tomatoes – My husband and I have officially given up on planting the larger varieties of tomatoes. Two years ago, our plants got bottom rot which is every bit as lovely as it sounds. Last year we only planted smaller varieties : yellow pear, cherry, and grape. Not only are they prolific, they’re also very versatile. I use them in everything from salads to sandwiches to spaghetti sauce. They perform every bit as well as their bigger siblings. The other two things we’ve learned :
1) Tomato plants get big. They need plenty of space to grow.
2) Big tomato plants get heavy. Those tomato cages alone won’t hold them up; you need to stake them as well. Hopefully this year our plants will remain upright until September.
Cucumbers – Last May, I read an article about a woman who packed as many plants into her urban garden as possible. She tucked lettuce under the pepper plants and edged her garden beds with parsley. It helped me look at our small space in a whole new way. Take this lovely chain link fence in our backyard, for example. We planted our cucumbers and green beans along the base, and they happily climb up this industrial-strength trellis. The vegetables hang down and are easy to pick. Last year they produced more than we could eat.
Lettuce – This crop does best in cooler months. I meant to get my little lettuce plants in the ground earlier this spring. Being 8-9 months pregnant might have had something to do with my lack of motivation. I planted some different loose leaf varieties last weekend that should do just fine. Using scissors, you just clip off enough of the outer leaves to use fresh; they will continue to grow back. Once July hits and the heat cranks up, the lettuce will bolt to seed and turn bitter so enjoy it while it lasts! Oh, and word to the wise : slugs like lettuce. Unless you want to find a slimy little surprise in your salad, edge the soil around your plants with slug bait (aptly named Slug Death).
I’m excited to see what our garden produces this year. The $30ish we spent on plant starts and seeds this year will go farther in our garden than they would in the grocery store. Better yet, we’ll get to eat something we grew ourselves. In my opinion, it’s hard to put a price tag on that.
What about you? Have you planted your garden yet? What do you grow? If you’re an old pro, leave a comment with some tips for the rest of us!
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